During a recent expedition in Snowdonia a group from Warwick school spent a night wild camping near Lynn Eigiau in the Carneddau.
One of the school staff had produced a fact sheet on the Eigiau dam disaster of 1925, when the reservoir dam breached resulting in several deaths. The dam is still in place today (providing a nice windbreak for the campsite) and the breach can clearly be seen.
I've thought for a while that 'disasters' makes a good theme for outdoor education - the British countryside is full of the sites of plane crashes, industrial disasters and of course mountaineering deaths. In this case it was the breach of a reservoir dam resulting in the loss of 17 lives. There is of course a risk of appearing heartless or macabre when dwelling on these disasters, but there is equally the potential not only for increased awareness and thought but also for igniting genuine interest in the wider historical, geographical and political contexts of these events as well as in the mountains themselves.
The Eigiau dam was built in 1911 by the Aluminium Corporation to provide water for a power station, to power the aluminium works at the nearby village of Dolgarrog. Its construction was the cause of controversy over allegations of corner cutting by a contractor and today the dam can be seen to have been inadequately constructed. In 1925 following several days of heavy rain the dam failed releasing huge quantities of water down the valley to Coedty reservoir, the dam of which then also failed releasing the flood water into Dolgarrog and resulting in 17 deaths. It is thought that the death toll could have been even higher had not many of the villagers been in the local cinema. In 2004 a memorial walk was opened by the last survivor of the disaster, Fred Brown, who had lost family members in the flood.
The breach in the dam wall at Lynn Eigiau
It almost felt like the start of Summer on Kinder Scout yesterday, during a day spent there with a group of walkers from the charity Julian Support (http://www.juliansupport.org/)
We walked up by way of Grindsbrook Clough then along the plateau edge past the Wool Pack rocks to descend by Jacobs Ladder. Discussion ranged from the natural forces that had sculpted the wool pack, to the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932, to the benefits of home made jerky as food for the hills.
In April 2014 Mountain Training are launching their new Hill Skills and Mountain Skills courses. Lupine Adventure Co-operative put in an application to be one of the first wave of providers for the new courses and were accepted. Before we can run these courses all course tutors have to attend a two day training course.
I attended mine in the Peak District last week, as with any training that one is obliged to attend I had all the usual concerns. Will it be a waste of time and money? What sort of snacks will be provided? will the other Mountain Leaders like me?
My fears were without foundation. The course was great, the lunch awesome and the other attendees in my group were a lovely bunch. After various introductions on the first day we split into groups and, using the syllabus, we worked out a sample programme and went into detail about the different ways we could deliver the various aspects.
On day 2 we went out for a walk in our groups and each took it in turns to deliver a topic. One person taught, one person gave feedback and then we all gave feedback on the feedback (It actually worked quite well even if it sounds a bit silly). My group were great, no massive egos meant that we all had a chance to show what we knew and learn from each other. I picked up a few new tricks for teaching about contour lines, pacing and timing.
I elected to do my talk on movement skills and in particular 'how to walk up-hill' not a topic that I would choose to cover on every course but something I have a growing slightly nerdy interest in (I've even written a sheet on it). We were accompanied by an Editor of Grough magazine so I got this rather nice picture of me instructing a group of Mountain Leaders how to walk up-hill.
Photo courtesy of Grough Magazine: www.grough.co.uk
Lupine Adventure will be delivering Hill Skills and Mountain Skills courses from May 2014. Visit our dedicated Hill and Mountain Skills website for more details. http://www.hillandmountainskills.co.uk/
Every winter for the past few years I have spent a week or two wardening the Alex Macintyre hut for the BMC. This year I've been inundated with friends come an join me for different bits of it. On Sunday Archie came up and yesterday we embarked on the Ring of Steall. The Ring of Steall is a 12km route taking in 4 Munros (peaks over 3000ft) starting and ending in Glen Nevis. Early on in the day you have to cross the 'Devils Ridge'.
I'd done bits of this route before in winter 10 years ago, including the devils ridge and thought nothing of it. Yesterday was a good reminder that in winter, conditions are everything. There was a lot of snow up high and while last time we skipped along the ridge slightly disappointed this time we were gripped on an horrendously steep edge on brittle ice with a soft snow top wishing we'd brought two axes each. A slip from here would have been un-stoppable. This 20m section took an age and left us both with aching left arms, due to (over) gripping the axe. We were now 5 hours into the walk and had only gone 5 km, this was when the cloud came in. The rest of the day was a bit quicker only slowed down during periods of complete white out when we had to inch along the ridge trying to work out which side of the fine peak of wind sculpted snow would be safest to walk on.
We got back to the car after 9 and a half hours of, at times, pretty extreme ridge walking, for a grade I.
If you would like to learn more about winter mountaineering or to be taken on a walk like this (or maybe something a bit less challenging), visit our winter skills and expeditions page.
I've been reading Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales over Christmas. It's basically anecdote after anecdote (or case study after case study if you prefer) about things going wrong on mountains, in boats, on surfboards, in jungle - In the wilderness.
I am only half way through but the basic premise is that having more experience can mean in certain circumstances you are more in danger. This due to applying successful past outcomes of actions to similar but different situations rather than assessing each situation on its own merits. The dangers of heuristics. He is also of the opinion that being experienced can just mean that you've been getting away with doing things wrong for a long time!
I'll leave you with this fantastic quote.
"The environment we're used to is designed to sustain us. We live like fish in an aquarium. Food comes mysteriously down, oxygen bubbles up. We are the domestic pets of a human zoo we call civilization. Then we go into nature, where we are least among equals with all other creatures. There we are put to the test. Most of us sleep through the test. We get in and out and never know what might have been demanded. Such experience can make us even more vulnerable for we come away with the illusion of growing hardy, salty, knowledgeable."
We were glad to hear that John qualified as a Mountain Leader earlier this month.
He spent several days out on the hill with us earlier in the year, coming on our both our standard and advanced navigation courses in preparation for gaining his ML award.
Congratulations John from all at Lupine for your success. It was well earned.
Hope to see you out on the hill in future...
As winter is approaching I thought I'd write a little piece on goggles for winter hill walking and how, after 15 years, I have, at last, bought a fantastic pair.
Getting a good pair of goggles for winter walking is incredibly important, if you can't see you can't navigate. Unfortunately, I think that most goggles you find in outdoor shops are designed for sking rather than winter mountaineering and most shop assistants don't seem to be able to advise on the difference.
I have four pairs of goggles in total. Two pairs of Bloc, one pair of Oakley's and a pair from TK max which seem to be made by a company called Ars. As Ars proudly stitch their name onto the head band it can look a bit obscene in photos if your head is at the wrong angle.
Very briefly here is my goggle history and a bit of advice for consideration.
1) 15 years ago I bought a pair of Bloc goggles off a friend, they worked well until something broke in them and they started filling with water between the lenses so I decided to buy a new pair.
2) I Went to TK max and got a pair for a tenner. They were terrible, they don't clear at all so you can't really see anything. They may be ok at speed on a ski run but for walking they are no good.
3) Next I bought a pair of Bloc goggles and was happy with them, they clear fairly quickly, look good and I thought all was well. Then one night I was out with Dave practicing some winter night navigation. I took us to the specific contour feature he had asked me to go to and gave him a challenge for the next leg. The weather was deteriorating so we decided to put our goggles on. After putting mine on I couldn't see the contour on the map that I had just navigated to, even though I knew exactly where it was. I gave Dave's goggles a try and it was amazing. I realised that I was basically wearing orange tinted sun glasses and trying to navigate at night.
Not only was the distance I could see massively reduced but contour lines were incredibly hard to make out especially when they were a bit obscured by other features or water / ice on the map case.
4) So I went shopping the next day and decided to test for myself. I ended up in the shop with the largest selection, lying on the floor with a big blanket over my head. I had with me a head torch, a selection of maps (3 different scales) in map cases and a bit of water to splash on the map case. I ended up buying some Oakley Catapult goggles (slightly bigger round the bridge of the nose than the Ambush, I thought it may be better when struggling for breath walking up hill). They are truly incredible, while I thought my bloc goggles were good, these are so much better for clarity in daylight and night time as well as seemingly being impossible to fog up. if you were to want to take a look at the beauty of this lens it is the Oakley 'Persimmon' lens that is found in many of their goggles. I am assuming that Catapult goggles will not be sold forever but the Persimmon lens should be about for a bit.
Basically, I bought these a while ago so have no idea what the market is like today, I am sure that Bloc do some good goggles for winter walking too but I think I have always had tinted ones which fogged up a bit.
If you are buying goggles I would definitely recommend going goggle shopping with a blanket, torch, maps and water. Yes it is a bit embarrassing but worth it if you don't want to waste your money on an expensive pair of sunglasses that are useless for winter walking and look silly at the beach.
And lastly. You do need to protect your goggles when they are in your rucksack so unless you spend a fortune and they come with a hard case you'll have to get one. You could search for 'Summit Worldwide UNIVERSAL Ski Goggle Case' which you may be able to pick up for about £10 or take your goggles to a big supermarket and buy as suitably sized lunch box. Make sure you don't store your goggles in an air tight lunch box over summer though or they may go mouldy.
If you would like to learn more about winter mountaineering or simply be taken on an amazing winter walking trip then visit our winter skills and expeditions page.